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Eastern Reveals 2019 TIMPANI Toy Study Results

Published on December 10, 2019

Eastern Reveals 2019 TIMPANI Toy Study Results

The 2019 TIMPANI toy is "Family Counters" by Learning Resources

Eastern Connecticut State University's Center for Early Childhood Education announced on Dec. 9 that "Family Counters" by Learning Resources has been named the 2019 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.

For the past 10 years, the annual study has investigated how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. This year, researchers studied 10 toys representing different types of play materials. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms at the University's Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Researchers then coded the footage according to the study's evaluation rubric, which assesses how well each toy inspires children's problem-solving, cooperation with peers, creativity and use of language.

Family Counters received the highest overall score in this year's study and did especially well in promoting children's creativity and verbalization during play. The toy is an example of a "replica play toy" and includes miniature plastic cats and people of various sizes and colors. Sayantani Nandy, an Eastern graduate student studying early childhood education, observed that children role-played with the toy, pretending the figures were "parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, pets. It so much relates to their family surroundings and what they see in their homes and environment."

"A lot of times children collaborated to carry out family play narratives," said Allison Lundy, a psychology and early childhood education student also involved in the study. Children enacted elaborate, imaginary scenarios with their peers to act out stories of their own invention. Alyssa Barry, a sociology and early childhood education student and also involved in the research project, noted that children also engaged in math play when using the toy. "Sometimes they color-coded them; sometimes they grouped them by size." Children were also observed counting the different pieces after sorting them.

"What makes these toys so valuable is they're simple and non-descript," said Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, co-principal investigator and former Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education at Eastern. "They don't have a lot of detail to them, and that allows children to play with them in almost any way they wish." This finding is consistent with previous findings, showing that basic, open-ended toys tend to score the highest in the TIMPANI study.

Julia DeLapp, co-investigator and director of the Center for Early Childhood Education, acknowledges the numerous undergraduate researchers who have participated in the study over the years.

Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, co-principal investigator and former Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education at Eastern, speaks at the TIMPANI press conference.

2019 TIMPANI researchers: (left to right) Allison Lundy, Sayantani Nandy, Julia DeLapp, Jeffrey Trawick-Smith and Alyssa Barry

Julia DeLapp, co-investigator and director of the Center for Early Childhood Education, noted, "It's important for families to know that they don't need to purchase expensive, elaborate toys with a lot of bells and whistles on them. Simple is often better, because children have to use more of their own imagination."

This year was the 10th year of the ongoing study. Researchers marked this milestone by creating an interactive "toy museum" for children enrolled in the Child and Family Development Resource Center. Researchers selected 30 of the best-performing toys from previous years and invited children and families to explore the toys and learn how each supports children's learning and development. Placards displayed information on each toy.

"For the past 10 years, Dr. Trawick-Smith and his students have been keenly engaged in significant, empirically based research to investigate what toys are best suited for developing children's cognitive, social and language skills," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "As much as the unveiling of the selected toy is always an exciting day, I continue to be impressed by the scientific methodology used by our student researchers - video-based observations assessed against a carefully crafted rubric. Most compelling are the consistent findings of the study over the past decade - that open-ended, "low-tech" toys have the greatest value in advancing the skills and development of young children. It is gratifying to know that Eastern's TIMPANI toy study will be used by educators and parents throughout the United States and abroad to inform their decisions about children's playtime activities."

The results of the 2019 study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Nashville, TN, on Nov. 20. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families.

For more information or to watch a video about the 2019 TIMPANI Toy, visit, or contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687.

Previous TIMPANI toys include Magz Clix by Magz® (2018), Animal Kingdom Mega Pack Playset by Animal Planet (2017), Plus-Plus® by Plus-Plus® (2016), Wooden Cash Register by Hape (2015); Paint and Easel (easel by Community Playthings), and Hot Wheels Cars by Mattel (2014); Magna-Tiles by Valtech!, and My First Railway by Brio (2013); Duplo Blocks by LEGO (2012); Tinker Toys by Hasbro (2011); Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).

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Disclaimer: The TIMPANI toy study does not consider, nor does it test, the safety of toys. The study makes no claims about the safety of any toy studied. Neither the Center for Early Childhood Education nor Eastern Connecticut State University is liable for any mishaps related to the use of toys mentioned in study findings. Concerns about any toy listed in the study findings should be directed to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Written by Julia DeLapp